Saturday, November 13, 2010

Puppy Play, Socialization, and Confinement

Lots people are getting puppies lately. One of the questions people will ask me is where they can find a good puppy socialization class where there is puppy play time. While I am sure there are wonderful classes with puppy play time and instructors that are careful to ensure that the size and age are equal as well as the personalities (no bullies), I would never personally put any of my young dogs in a class or place where puppies are allowed to play as part of the class. I'm not trying to say that these classes are bad or wrong. I just don't like them for my own dogs.

Bringing Gimmick home from Advance, NC
and Denise Wall's farm
(photo take by Denise Wall)
When I get a new puppy, I want them to bond with me. Before they come home with me and they are in the litter, they find reinforcement from playing with the other puppies and if you have a wonderful breeder, like I do, they get lots of interaction from her (or him) as well. However, that being said, when a new puppy comes into my life, I want them to learn that all the fun and reinforcements are coming from me - not from other dogs. Since my dogs are not only my pets, they are future performance dogs, I want to ensure that I am not allowing them to further associate other dogs as a source of reinforcement or pleasure. Some dogs, like my young dog Schema, have so much prey drive and are highly stimulated by motion that if I would have given her more access to running and chasing other dogs as a young dog, her focus would have been almost unmanageable now. I understand that many people use these puppy play time sessions to exercise and tire the puppies. But again, I feel that its in my puppy's better interest to have me exercise them - mentally and physically. It might be more of an inconvenience by some (I actually enjoy training and playing with puppies), but the pay off down the road is priceless. With me exercising my young dogs, I can continue to train and reward and build a great relationship. And they grow to look to me as the source of excitement and adventure in their lives.

In terms of socialization, I believe that I am the best person to properly provide those experiences for my puppies (not other dogs or puppies) and give them the best exposure to life. I can monitor and control their behavior by rewarding them for things I want repeated and distracting them or removing them when there are unwanted behaviors.

Reason at 9 weeks of age
Some people have had or currently have dogs that have been dog aggressive or are just highly stimulated by the presences of dogs and they don't want to have the same situation happen with their new puppy. But by putting your puppy into a puppy play socialization class, doesn't guarantee that they will learn to deal better with dogs. They can still have a bad experience and still end up with fear issues. Most dog aggression is fear based and I believe that I can minimize and prevent fear issues with my own training and proper exposure to people, dogs, places, and various environments. Also I believe fear issues or behavior issues can be aggravated by the owner's reaction to how the puppy reacts to something and so I feel it is more important for me - as the puppy's leader - to build trust by controlling those situations as much as possible. Puppy play sessions are not controlled enough - at least for my own liking.


I am also very careful to not let my puppies run with my older dogs (for the sake of them getting hurt, as their bodies and bones are not yet done growing). Even my adult dogs that are good with puppies are not allowed much time together with the puppy and when they are I am there supervising. Depending on the puppy and how much they are interested in the other dogs, I might start allowing them some time together outside to play, while I am watching. But by then, I know they have a reliable recall. If it appears that my young dogs are ignoring my commands to recall away from the activities or they are being too "doggie", they will lose their privileges. I do not want them to be practicing bad habits of ignoring me or my commands.

Tack and Reason on the bed
Teaser on the floor next to the xpen

I like to use an exercise pen (xpen) in the house and motels to keep my young dogs separate from my older dogs. This helps the adjustment between the young and old, helps me to be able to do things in the house and not have to worry about my pup getting into something they shouldn't, and also prevents the pup and the dogs from too much interaction at the start.

In the house or in the motels, I never let my dogs rough house or wrestle or run through the rooms. Many accidents happen indoors and usually when the dogs are tired and just running amok. My young dogs seem to get very active and tend to run wild the most around bedtime - usually 9:30. When they start running like that, they are removed and put back into their xpen. Almost immediately after being confined, they fall fast asleep. This running amok is very similar to what happens with the Border Collies when they are adolescents and are being worked on stock. If they are mentally exhausted (due to the difficult demands and tense pressure situations that stock training involves), they will start doing the same thing - running hard, but with very little thought. That is the time to quit as well.

As my puppy grows up, they are allowed more and more privileges and will be allowed gradual increased freedom. I am also quick to take away privileges and freedom I start to see behavior issues or changes. But my dogs spend most of their puppy hood and adolescent time in an xpen when I am not around or I am busy and unable to watch them. Lots of very good dog trainers struggle with young dogs getting into trouble chewing unwanted items, getting into unwanted areas, eating things they shouldn't eat, grabbing food off of counters and many other bad behaviors because the dog is not constantly supervised.  I'm always surprised that performance people are resistant to using more confinement and structured separation with their dogs to minimize these unwanted situations. Because my puppies and adolescents are raised by being confined in an xpen when they are not being supervised, they learn to relax and when they are out they learn to interact with me or just hang out with me. They do not go off looking for trouble (if they do, they lose their privilege of freedom).

Score at 14 weeks
I love puppies and I thoroughly enjoy training, playing, and interacting with puppies. They are as bundles of pure energy and enthusiasm. They are empty pages of a future novel that we will write together as we share a very special journey.